This four-story Gothic-revival ballroom isn’t the sort of amenity one would expect to find in a development that includes subsidized housing for residents making 50 percent to 60 percent of the area median income, much less transitional housing for men moving out of homelessness. But then again, National Park Seminary isn’t your typical development.
Originally built as a summer retreat for well-heeled Washingtonians, the property’s very first building—a Queen Anne–style hotel known as “Ye Forest Inne”—dates back to 1887. This massive, 30,000-square-foot building later became a dormitory for an elite finishing school for girls, followed by a stint as an army-annexed rehabilitation center for wounded soldiers returning from war.
By the time Madison, Wis.–based master developer The Alexander Co. took control of the 32-acre campus and its odd melange of buildings in 2003, the site had been languishing in a state of disrepair for 25 years as government surplus property; its buildings sagging from structural damage due to water intrusion, fires, infestation, abandonment, and vandalism.
But it’s amazing what $120 million in redevelopment funding, a crew of crowbar-wielding restoration experts, and sheer determination can do—particularly for a project less than a mile from the D.C. Metrorail. Renovated and transformed by Baltimore builder Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the main building now houses 66 apartments and condos (with no two floor plans alike), 56 of which are reserved as workforce housing for qualified residents. The quirky units and communal spaces still preserve historically significant elements such as ornate fireplaces, wainscoting, crown molding, statues, fountains, arched doorways, and tin ceilings.
Meanwhile, many of the whimsical smaller buildings on the property—among them a Swiss chalet, Japanese pagoda, Dutch windmill, and English garden castle, all of which formerly served as sorority houses—have been remodeled as single-family homes. The eclectic community also now includes 90 new, market-rate townhomes built in historic styles by Bethesda, Md.–based builder/developer EYA.
As for that ballroom that once housed dances, debutantes, GIs, hospital beds, and ping pong tables? It now serves as a killer party facility for residents of National Park Seminary, as well as the larger local community. Underneath its vaulted beams and clerestory leaded glass windows, the original brick alcoves are still lined with sculptures, urns, and busts of prominent historic figures. And the space still retains its set of massive wooden Victrola speakers.